Interview With Actor Jason McKinnon

By Ruth on June 28, 2017 in Interview, movie, television
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Yet again, my attention to the supporting cast members of any production combined with Hallmark’s willingness to feature lesser known actors has produced an interview that viewers may not find anywhere else. And frankly, that’s the way I like it. A little while ago, Jason McKinnon, whom Hearties saw featured as Mr. Higgins in season four of When Calls the Heart, agreed to chat with me about his unique experience and outlook on the film and television industry in today’s society, and our conversation led us to some worthwhile discussion that I believe could benefit both viewers and actors alike. 

RH: So glad we are able to chat today!

JM: Me too.

You have done quite a few things recently. I knew you were on When Calls the Heart, but of course, IMDB doesn’t list your role.

Yeah, IMDB is not always up to date. And sometimes I have to send in my own stuff as well, so they will update it.

Thankfully you posted a video of the role you played so we could be reminded of your character. I always have to go hunting for the supporting cast members. But I notice you have done a good amount with Hallmark.

It’s just kind of worked out that way. It’s been interesting.

How did you decide to become an actor?

That was a no-brainer since seventh grade when I had a teacher who said I should do this. I was like, “What? Be in your class?” She was like, “No, be an actor.” I had a lot of support. My teacher’s name was Lynn Crymble., and she was the genesis of making sure I would continue to be an actor, you know? But I have always loved acting.

So were you in plays throughout school? 

Absolutely. Actually, we had an awesome improv teacher, Shannon Leggett, who in retrospect probably wasn’t that much older than we were. We still stay in touch till this day. She rallied the troops so to speak. She had a lot of us doing improv together. Because of her, we were able to compete internationally. So I did that as well as a number of plays at school. If I remember right, you’re a teacher, right?

Yes, I am technically a substitute teacher.

Have you done any drama stuff?

I actually did a long-term sub job for a high school drama class. It was great, but it had its moments as well.

I understand. My friend is a teacher, and I went in and talked with the class, and I could tell that ninety-eight percent of them were just there for the easy course, and maybe one or two kids were interested. I was happy to do it, but you could just tell they were checked out.

When we did improv back in school, our teacher was really into it. She encouraged us to take it seriously and to do more and improve ourselves.

After high school, did you go to college for drama or theater?

Yeah, right after high school, a friend of mine was on his way to being a doctor or a scientist or something like that. I convinced him to come to acting class with me. {laughs} He did improv and acting with me. I knew deep down it was something he really wanted to do. So we went to a full-time program right after high school–Actor’s Working Academy in Gastown. That was about a seven or eight-month program. I actually won a scholarship at my school that paid for quite a bit of the course.

After that, I kept studying. We had a teacher named Warren Robertson from Archer City, Texas, of all places. This guy had stories. He was in the same class as Marilyn Monroe and Stella Adler. He had been at what is often referred to as “ground zero” in New York at the actor’s studio. He would tell us all sorts of stories about Marlon Brando and others. We stayed with him for about seven years.

When you actually began your professional career in acting, where did you start–film, theater, commercials?

Good question. I did a few theater shows. I did a few plays right off the bat. I did Grease and I did Hair at Theater Under the Stars. That was really interesting. But my focus was really film and TV. If someone were to ask me, I would definitely recommend improv and theater. That has definitely helped me get going on the right path. I’ve only had one director say I needed to tone it down a little bit. And I was like, “Ok.” Meanwhile, the other actor was like, “Rawr!” in my face, and I was thinking, “Really? Am I the only one who needs to tone it down?” It was a weird, bizarre day, but I have found that it is better to have to bring it down and have a lot of things going on underneath than to have to add more to it.

That’s actually a good point. I don’t think I’ve heard anyone say it quite like that. I can think of many actors I’ve seen on TV and films, and I think, “Man, I wish they’d give a little bit more than what they’re giving,” ’cause you really don’t feel like you’re getting much of anything. I typically don’t see acting that seems overdone. It seems like they’re pretty good at bringing it down. But I can see how it might be harder to bring more rather than tone it down. {pause} Now, what do you consider to be your first TV/film gig?

My first one was Halloween Resurrection. A friend of mine in my acting class, Jada, ended up booking the same movie. We had a scene together where we were supposed to be camping. Funny story–I’m Scottish-Irish, and so I have pretty pale skin. I was nervous because they said I may or may not have to have my shirt off. And I was like, “Oh my gosh!” That was really scary for me. I ended up going to the beach the day before, and I kinda overdid it. I showed up on set, and the makeup artist was like, “We just want to make sure in case you have to have your shirt off that we do the right kind of makeup for you.” And sure enough, I was like a lobster. It was bad. So she was not very happy. She had to conceal this sunburn. That was interesting. I found out that makeup and all the other departments definitely need to be your friend. You need to be conscious of everybody. It was a good lesson. {laughs}

I think oftentimes we viewers forget how important the crew are since we don’t see them. And that’s why I always reach out to the crew members to feature them too. I know that you actors are working very closely with the crew, and if you don’t have a good relationship, that can make things very difficult. 

A little while ago, I did a Facebook live post about entitlement and people who become entitled, and I was comparing it to the voiceover world since I also do voiceover. I did stand-in work for a short time, and I thought it was invaluable ’cause you are there with them. You get an appreciation for what they go through.

I know that IMDB doesn’t even list all the things that you’ve done. You mentioned stand-in work, and you’ve done background work. 

Yeah, I don’t really count any of those as credits. Those are just experience.

from Level Up

Before we get to the Hallmark stuff, is there anything else that stands out to you that people might recognize you from?

One show that I loved doing, but it was directed more at kids or teens, was called Level Up. I don’t know if anyone would necessarily recognize me from the show per se, but that was my first recurring character on a show. I did about six episodes. That was the first time I felt like I was part of a show.  The characters in Level Up were video game characters that would come into the real world. One of the kids, Jesse T. Usher, played Will Smith’s son in the new Independence Day. He was one of the really talented guys there.

from Supernatural

The other credit people might know was Supernatural. I was on it for just the one episode. We shot about five days or so. I got to be a big jerk to Jensen {Ackles} and Jared {Padalecki}, so that was interesting. I had to get right in their faces, and he technically turns into a Leviathan, and a Leviathan, I think, is some sort of mythical creature. It lives in the water.

from Supernatural

From my research, I don’t know if it’s Greek mythology or what, but anyway. In this show, whatever the food was, it made everyone very aggressive and very antagonistic. He was asking me, “Hey, can we get some help?” And I’m like, “Hey, buddy, why don’t you talk to one of the hostesses. Do I look like a freakin’ hostess?” So I was right in his face, but anyway, it was fun. That’s one where I’ll have friends email me or text me saying they saw me.

I know Supernatural seems to be one of those that almost everybody in Vancouver who’s an actor at some point has been on it. Or if they haven’t been on it, they want to be on it desperately. 

Sometimes people will say, as a sort of a jab, that a show like Supernatural is one that “everyone’s been on.” Now, I know you didn’t mean it in that way, and I didn’t take it that way…I know I’m getting a little sidetracked. I made a post just the other day about people believing in themselves and giving themselves credit for their own value, you know? And I want to make sure that people out there never have those thoughts that they’re not good enough or that their experiences mean nothing. Don’t ever let anyone put you down, and if they do, dismiss it.

from A Wish for Christmas

Do you happen to know what your first Hallmark thing was?

Yeah, the first one would have been with Lacey Chabert. That was A Wish For Christmas.

Yeah, I think, now that you mention, I actually remember you on that one.  I’ve not interviewed Lacey but I’ve interviewed Paul Greene. I’ve actually interviewed Paul three times. He’s one of my favorite people to interview.

Yeah, he’s a good guy. I like Paul.

with Paul Greene

So how did you land that role?

All the Hallmark stuff goes through a casting director. I had been brought in for a couple of things, and I was close to booking a few roles, and for whatever reason, it didn’t work out.  It’s interesting because they’re very specific about the roles and the characters. It just so happened that I went out for this boss role in A Wish for Christmas, and he’s a bit of a jerk. I’ve gotten called for the nice guy a couple times, and I thought I might have more luck with the jerk. I don’t know what it was about that audition, but I remember thinking, “I’ve gone out a couple times for this Hallmark stuff, and I’ve played it pretty safe, and for whatever reason, I wasn’t right for those roles.” And so I thought, “You know what? I’m gonna kind of amp it up a bit here and throw caution to the wind.” And I just kind of really went for it on this one. It was funny when I was on set, the writer came over and he was like, “So you’re our first real bad guy we’ve had,” and I was like, “Huh?” I wasn’t even that bad of a guy! I guess he’s a bit of a jerk; he’s stealing her ideas. That’s not cool. But the writer was really excited about it, and I was like, “Yeah, all right! Cool!” Anyway, it was very sweet. And that’s where I met Andrea Brooks, Lacey, and Paul Greene. And yeah, it was cool.

Now, I think all the viewers would say you played a pretty bad guy in When Calls the Heart.

{laughs} I don’t know why you’d say that. I don’t know. I have this weird feeling like someone told me when I was younger, people would tell me, “You’re so nice. Why are you so nice?” And I’d be like, “What do you mean ‘Why am I so nice?’ Is it a bad thing?” I guess it’s fun playing the bad guy.

Well, I didn’t ever get to do a lot of drama in my lifetime, but I always have been drawn to the roles that are “bad.”  Sometimes I’m not even that excited about the lead roles. I’ll be excited about the supporting characters that are more interesting. After all, I interviewed Jeremy {Guilbaut}. And the Hearties were just going crazy, going off on his character and how horrible he is. I’m thinking he plays a bad guy, but some want him out of the story. And I’m like, “No if you remove those bad guys from the story, the story is no longer interesting.”  And so even with your character, we’re thinking it’s that bad, bad guy, but without him, the story would have been really boring.

{laughs} Yes, of course, it would.

I always remind the Hearties that the bad guys on Hallmark are much more toned down than the bad guys on other networks.

Yeah, but that guy who played the teacher, he was scary. Maybe he’s a little lonely, but this guy was going after the kids, and I was like, “Oh, no!” I got upset watching him. He was breaking the girl’s pencils. It’s weird though. I don’t know how I get these bad guy roles. Even in Murder, She Baked.  He wasn’t really a jerk, but he did try to do a bit of sabotage.

Well, I guess I guess you’re getting that Hallmark reputation of, “We’re going to put him in the bad guy roles.”  But even then those guys that end up being the bad guy so much at Hallmark eventually, they tend to move them away from those jerk roles.

Yeah, well, let’s hope so.

I think that oftentimes that’s the way the guys start out in Hallmark. They either start out with some little role that if you blink, you might miss them just because it’s a very small role. Or they start out like what you’re doing–with the jerks and the bad guys. Then they see how well you do that–which it’s clear you have the desired response from all your roles. Maybe they’ll put you in a murder mystery next time and they’ll make you the murderer.

from A Wish For Christmas

I’d be up for that. Erin {Krakow} was awesome to work with. And the same with Lacey–she was a total sweetheart to work with, and I just felt bad after every take. She was pregnant and well into her pregnancy, which they had to hide. And I just apologized to her and felt so bad. And she was like, “No, gosh, you’re so funny! That was great!” I was funny?? No, I was a total jerk! But she was like, “No, you’re hilarious! It was so good!”  And I was like, “Okay.” She was always looking out for other people even though she was the one who was carrying another person.

with Daniel Lewis

I know you play the bad guy a lot for Hallmark, but what do you like about working for Hallmark?

I like it because, and I don’t think I’m making any of this up–there’s a strong background, at least from the creators. They have a big, I guess I’d say, Christian background. I always respect people with strong religious beliefs or people that have beliefs, whether it’s religious or not, there’s a consistent, common theme that is…I don’t know, I can’t describe it. There’s just something about it–I don’t know what the word is. It’s just nice. There’s a sense of purpose behind it. A critic could say it’s formulaic. Two people fall in love. There’s a bad guy. But if you look at a movie, that’s really the basis of all these things. Any of these great Disney movies are great because they have a formula, and it’s been like that for thousands of years. I really like the set atmosphere. It’s a lot saner, I feel. There’s a lot more sanity, and there’s a purpose behind it. Take Candace Cameron-Bure for example. She’s very open about her religion. I don’t know exactly what it is, but there is something really nice about it. Like in the world of chaos, mayhem, and this level of morality that seems to be on a dwindling spiral, it’s nice to see these productions that have a level of calmness. I think the world needs a little bit more of that.

I think you got to your point quite well. I understood exactly what you were saying because that’s something that I think a lot of viewers, myself included, really do appreciate about the show. It’s not like they’re beating you over the head with a Bible or they’re telling you how to live your life–that’s not their purpose. But their purpose is they tell a story that’s got morality in it. If they’re doing something bad, they get in trouble and they have to face whatever the consequences are, or they have to apologize, whatever the case is. It’s the way the moral compass thing is supposed to work. That’s a part of their programming. It’s what you see.

It’s not even just the productions that come out of Hallmark. Even the people and the general feeling I get with these productions. It’s just the antithesis of all the craziness that happens in this world.  It’s too bad, you know, there’s some really great ideas and concepts on HBO and others. But it’s just going to be red-lined, to make a car analogy, about how far these things go. It’s just not necessary. You don’t need to go there. I’ve always appreciated comics like Jerry Seinfeld and guys like that that can get their point across without having to be whatever. Without too much profanity and without being derogatory to other people.

I agree with you completely because I know there are shows on other networks that I’ll start trying to watch that sound really good and sometimes I really like the concept and watch it, but it’s like, “You know, I wish they didn’t have to have this. Why did they have to have that?” It’s  like the networks feel like they have to throw in something to reach this group or that group, but Hallmark doesn’t do that. With Hallmark, they’re just going to tell a story. You know, they take a lot of criticism because I see the post now and then saying they don’t have a diverse enough cast and they don’t have this and they don’t have that.

Yes, we live in the age of offending people. Something is always offending someone. I understand that, but it seems like there are other things in life to think about instead of just that.

I think that you are doing voiceover work too.  I think there’s something I saw on your Twitter page that mentioned it.  Ninjago, I think?

Yeah, that’s like season seven. It’s been a little bit hard to track because  The Cartoon Network won’t let me access the one in the States and see what’s airing there. It’s been really confusing to try to follow it. I have been able to catch a couple of episodes, and it’s awesome. Being able to work on it was really outstanding and I was happy with the product that they showed. And that’s been very, very cool.

I don’t always watch all the animated things,  but I’m usually familiar with them because at some point, my daughter’s watched them or she has friends that watch them. It’s great that you’re able to do voice work and to do such a good series. And one that is somewhat well-known. I think Ninjago is fairly well known.

Yeah, just the whole Lego brand is so well-known, it’s crazy.

I know that sometimes people really struggle to get something like that. They want to do voice work,  but sometimes I hear for those that are trying to break into it, they say it’s so hard to break into voice work and to really get into it because it’s such a tight-knit community and it can be hard to have somebody new coming in. I don’t know if that’s one hundred percent true, but that’s what I’ve heard from those trying to get into it.

It’s like anything. Here’s the thing. Let’s say you were in charge of a session, and you have exactly three hours to do a certain amount of pages of dialogue. You knew that if you hired Joe, John, and Jane, you know they’ll get it done in the three hours. So you’re gonna hire Joe, John, and Jane. And that’s really the simplicity of it ’cause they are looking for more people all the time. If it’s always the same people… I can now spot the same people when I watch shows. I hear them on the radio or wherever,  I am pretty sure I know who played what character. If it was just the same people forever and ever, then productions would be like, “I don’t know if I want to go to Vancouver again. It’s the same thirteen, fourteen people we always see.” People just need to persist. If I could have a middle name, it would be persistence. I just don’t give up. I decide on something and I do it. I’ve done the same with voiceover. I knocked on the doors. I went to the studios. I followed up with emails and calls. I’m watching; I’m researching. I think what happens sometimes is people get discouraged after a couple tries. Then it’s easy to say it’s too “cliquey.”

That is so true. Persistence, yeah, that’s me too. Over the last year and a half or so that I’ve been interviewing people, I’ve even become more persistent. Sometimes I feel like I ask way too many times or wonder why I keep trying. But I’m going to do it again and that is why I’ve gotten so many interviews. Then people will ask, “How did you get that interview?” And my response it, “I asked.” {pause} Now do you have anything else upcoming that you can mention?

Yeah, there’s lots coming up. Travelers. I’m back on Travelers, which is a Netflix show. That’s a recurring part on that show. I recently finished a part on an ABC pilot, The Trustee. I’m also in another Netflix show, Altered Carbon. At this point, I don’t think I can say much about either, but just keep watching. I’ll mention more when I can.  I was also in a movie with Julia Roberts, Owen Wilson, and Jacob Tremblay called Wonder. It’s about a boy with a facial deformity–his journey and dealing with life. It’s based on a book if I remember right.

I think I know a lot of people who are in that movie. That is, as long as their part doesn’t get cut.

I know how that goes. That’s how it was with Halloween Resurrection. I told everyone that I was going to be in it, but I didn’t make the final cut. But if you look at the behind-the-scenes stuff on the DVD, you can see me there. That was my first thing, and I told all my friends. And they were like, “Dude, I didn’t see you.”

But with Wonder, it was very cool. I got to work with Daveed Digs, who had just come off of Hamilton. He’s also got his own hip hop group, and he’s been doing a lot of acting. That’s coming up in November, I believe. Then I have another role on Dinotrux, another Netflix show. Hopefully, those new episodes will come up sometime soon.

It’s really scary when you start mentioning things and I actually know what you’re talking about. I’ve  interviewed so many people that even if I haven’t seen it, I’m familiar with it.  

Kind of a funny story that shows the circle of life and all that. I was the lead of the show Dinotrux. I did thirteen episodes. I was the main, big truck, Ty. Then I had my first little taste of the voiceover world where apparently this is not uncommon. People get switched out being a main character when all of a sudden, the people in charge go, “No, not anymore.” At the time, this was a huge blow to me, but it was actually a huge learning lesson for me. A silver lining came from it, and I learned a lot. Andrew Francis, who’s on Chesapeake Shores, he took over being Ty. I hope some time I can get on Chesapeake Shores, but nothing as of yet. But I have recorded a new character back in December for Dinotrux, so that’s good news. It just goes to show you never know what’s gonna happen. You sure don’t want to burn bridges.

It sounds like a lot is coming up for you. In fact, it sounds like even though you’re not a household name, shall we say, you’re a working actor, and you’re a working actor who is working a lot. I think that should be the goal of any actor in the business–that you’re a working actor who can make a living doing what you enjoy doing. 

Exactly. I’m a household name, but the households just need to open their doors and they’ll find out. They just don’t know it yet. One of the Hearties happened to mention something about Danika McKellar. They suggested that she and I do a movie together. And I was like, “Yeah, I agree with you. Why don’t you ask Hallmark for that to happen?” And I posted something about it, and Danika tweeted out something like, “Looking forward to it.” My response was, essentially, “Thirteen-year-old Jason just had a minor heart attack because of Danika’s response.” He died and went to heaven. {laughs} She was Winnie Cooper from The Wonder Years.

I know what you mean. For me, it was Lori Loughlin. I was her fan from Full House, and she was the reason I started watching When Calls the Heart. I didn’t care about anyone else. I didn’t know anybody else. I interviewed Kevin O’Grady

Yeah, he’s a good buddy of mine.

Oh, yeah, he is awesome. Again, he was one I had to chase around for months before we could get an interview. I thought, “You know, I’m gonna send this over to Lori.” He spoke so highly of Lori, and maybe she’ll notice it. And when she responded–I was getting this message back from this actress who I watched when I was growing up. That was a massive thing for me. So I know kinda how you feel.

Yeah, Kevin has done a lot of Garage Sale Mystery films with her, and I’m always saying, “Tell Lori I said ‘hi.” Actually, I’m kidding. Kevin and I went to the same acting school–Actor’s Working Academy. So I’ve known him for almost twenty years.

That’s what I love about Vancouver. It seems like so many of the actors are interconnected. It happens all the time when I interview people. 

You’ve interviewed Viv Leacock?

Oh, yes! Yes, I’ve interviewed him twice. I really like him. 

Yeah, he’s a good guy. And he and Kevin are really good friends of mine.

Well, we hope that we will start seeing you in more Hallmark works. The next step for you I think is the “other guy.” Not that the other guy has to be a jerk ’cause sometimes in Hallmark they are not jerks. I like that. {pause} One more question for you. I know you’re very busy with the acting stuff, but are you ever thinking of writing/directing/producing stuff? 

Yeah, I think I’ll definitely end up directing at some point ’cause I’m very interested in that aspect of it. But also writing–I’m definitely seeing a trend with people writing their own stuff. Gerry Dee wrote all about his time as a teacher for the show Mr. D for CBC. There have been a couple others. Even Hank Azaria did some writing on the show Brockmire. Hank Azaria is the one who did all those voices for The Simpsons. I’m really seeing a trend here where people are writing their own stuff. Even people in Hollywood are writing their own stuff to get things going. So yes, I probably will do some writing at some point.

I think that has become the thing. Actors are telling me that they almost have to get to the point where they’re writing their own content, not just because of the trend, but because you have a lot more control over the character you want to play. You might get close to a character that you want, but the one that is being offered isn’t exactly what you want. So a lot of actors are taking up the writing thing.

I would also like to do some more voiceover at some point. And I’d like to get into doing some sketch comedy at some point too. I grew up watching Kids in the Hall and Saturday Night Live.  I love sketch comedy. I also love doing impressions and voices.

With Jason’s novel and pragmatic perspective on the movie and television industry, I found our chat to be informative and entertaining. Perhaps some think that Jason is only a dramatic actor who can handle bit parts or that he is only skilled at playing the “bad guy.” However, nothing could be further from the truth. I found Jason to be knowledgeable, entertaining, witty, and, if I may, charming. If he and Danika or any favorite female lead were cast in a Hallmark film together, there is no doubt that Jason would be fully equipped to meet that challenge. What he said about being a household name but nobody knows it yet is an intriguing way of thinking about actors in this business. What separates him from someone like Paul Greene or Jesse Metcalfe or Daniel Lissing? Honestly, it’s only opportunity and a great deal of–for lack of a better term–luck. The vast majority of working actors have just as much talent (if not more so) than the bigger names in this business, but for whatever reason, their big break has not come along like it has for the others. And it goes back to the more important question–why does someone choose to be an actor? In the case of Jason, there is no doubt in my mind that he values every single opportunity sent his way, small or large, major or (seemingly) insignificant. He doesn’t just rest on his laurels awaiting an ethereal opportunity to be sent his way that may never arrive. Instead, he takes advantage of every prospect, and he views every role and character as a stepping stone towards his ultimate dream and vision. But regardless, he is one of the lucky few who is able to support himself doing what he loves for a living, and any special moments that come his way are merely a bonus. So please check out all his links below, and be on the lookout for his upcoming works. As a multi-talented, versatile actor who can tackle any role that is given to him multiplied with his endearing humility, his paramount kindness, his unswerving drive, and his uncanny persistence, there is no doubt in my mind that one day soon, he will attain every dream within his heart. Or in the event that “Lady Luck” does not smile upon him, he will savor every moment that is afforded him within his chosen profession, and I think that is the kind of person each one of us should desire to support with a passion!

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About the Author

RuthView all posts by Ruth

43-year-old single mother of an active 14-year-old girl
Born in Tacoma, WA; lives in Yelm, WA
Entertainment Writer
Available For Interviews and Reviews
Substitute Teacher

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